Aphrodite’s Hope Excerpt


Chapter One

APHRODITEThe crisp Nashville air held the chill of the coming winter.  Aphrodite took a deep breath and smiled. When Dionysus had mentioned her running a store space at the Nashville Autumn Wine Festival, she’d jumped at the invitation. She needed a new project, and these festivals were the perfect place to meet lots of people.She glanced up at a grove of swaying trees. They were different shades of red, yellow, and orange –spectacular.  She would have to stop by the Temple of the Horae and compliment Xar on a beautiful autumn season. A soft breeze blew a tendril of her auburn hair into her face.  She reached back and pinned it with an onyx and turquoise clip.“Ditee!” Dionysus appeared and fell into stride next to her as she walked down Main Street.  “So glad you decided to join me.”“You know I love autumn weather.  And I always try to come to your festivals.”“They’re a bit more mellow these days.”She shoved his arm and laughed. “No orgies planned for tonight?”“Now, I didn’t say that.” His laughter joined hers and boomed across the square.  “Now that you and Ares have made up, I didn’t think you wanted an invite.”“I’m crushed, but you are correct.  I haven’t any need of your night partying.  Ares keeps me quite sated.”“We know.”“Shut up.” She shoved him again, gently.  Though she was nearly a foot shorter, she had more than enough strength to knock him across the street, even in human form.  “Your palace is on the other side of the mountain.”“Doesn’t matter, love.  You light up the sky.”Aphrodite shook her head and smirked.  She wasn’t embarrassed, but she would take measures to make her palace a bit more private for Ares’ sake.  If he were teased, he would be pissed.  It had been so many years since she had made love in her palace.  She’d forgotten how her essence lit up the place, though she never remembered it lighting up the whole of Olympus.  When she dallied on earth in human form, her essence remained hidden.“So where is my spot?”“Just past this flower shop, love.”They walked a few dozen yards and stopped in front of a cute hole-in-the-wall antique storefront with a weathered sign that read Aphrodite’s Ambrosia.  She giggled and pushed the door open.  The store was draped in different colors of chiffon —purple, white, and gold—just how she liked it.  A table in the center of the store was set up for wine tasting.“You made another batch of Red Ambrosia for me. Thank you.” He always remembered the small things. Being immortal, the small things mattered even more, or life just became boring.“It was such a popular bottle at the last festival.  I also stocked the store with Demeter’s Blush and the Artemis Merlot.”“Wonderful. Be sure to thank Demeter.”“I will. I thought you would be pleased.”“The store is beautiful too.  You even brought my favorite chaise down from the palace.”“Is Ares going to join you later?”“No.” She crossed her arms across her chest and gave a small pout. “He’s in the Middle East watching over a few sites that needed to be cooled down.  You know how he gets when he loses soldiers.”He nodded.  “I’ll leave you to get settled.  The festival opens for visitors in a half hour.”“Sounds good.”  She flashed him a wide smile and went to work opening a few bottles of each vintage so they could breathe.He waved and ducked out the front door of the shop.She leaned over, digging through the boxes Dionysus had left for her. Her back was to the door, when it opened again a few moments later. “Did you forget something, Dionysus?”  She turned and held out a bottle of the Red Ambrosia.  “For your afterparty– Oh.” Consciously closing her mouth, she stopped short and stared at the beautiful specimen of man standing in the doorway.“No, ma’am, not Dion-is-us, or whoever you said.  I just wanted to let you know I’m the police officer on duty for this line of shops today.”Aphrodite appraised him slowly from head to foot and licked her lips.  He blushed just slightly, and she mouth curved into a grin.  His dark hair hung just past his ears, and a little bit of stubble increased his appeal.  In fact, he reminded her a little of Ares.  He was tall, easily six and a half feet.  His shoulders were broad, and his arms flaunted beautifully sculpted muscles.  A tight blue tee shirt read NPD on the front and accented the effort he put into working out.  He would make a young lady very happy, if he weren’t already.  His dark-washed jeans and black combat boots completed his look.“So sorry, I thought you were my friend who’d just left.  Thank you for coming in to introduce yourself.”  She took several steps forward and extended her hand.  Aphrodite flashed him a big smile.  “I’ll be sure and set aside a bottle for you of my favorite.  Come by when you get off, and I’ll have it ready for you.”His shoulders relaxed. He reached forward and took her outstretched hand.  She threw a few more pheromones his way, and he gave her a gorgeous smile in return.  A slight electric shock passed between them.  Her grin widened when she saw his soul. She’d been looking for him for a while.“Detective Adrian Colter, ma’am.  Thank you, I appreciate it.  Just holler if you need anything.”“Anything?” She smirked.“Well…” He paused, the corners of his mouth curved.He’d realized her tease.  Aphrodite winked. “Detective Colter, please call me Ditee. I’m not particularly fond of ma’am.”He narrowed his eyes and looked down at her. “Isn’t this shop called Aphrodite’s Ambrosia?  Is your name…?”“It might just be…Pray tell, why is a detective walking a beat?” Her curiosity was peaked.“Just covering for a friend.”“Aren’t you just a sweetheart.”He grinned, gave her a polite nod, and walked out.Aphrodite waited until he was all the way out the door to squeal with glee. She’d met his soul mate several years ago—a firecracker at heart, blonde, beautiful, and eternally single.That was about to change.* * *ADDISON“Missy, don’t worry.  I’ll be there tomorrow night.  That gives us a whole week to make sure all the details are worked out.”She spoke calmly, trying to get her best friend to relax.  Poor Missy was a giant ball of nerves and had convinced her to come to Nashville a week before the wedding, even though she had a wedding coordinator and her mother watching everything like hunters waiting for a deer in a blind. Nothing could possibly escape those women.Addison’s fingers twirled as she knotted the last bit of yarn.  She’d finally finished the afghan for Missy and her fiancé, Tom.  It was made of super soft navy blue yarn, and it was more than large enough for two people to snuggle under.  White snowflakes were randomly sprinkled across it.“I know you’ll be here on Friday. I’m just in knots, Addi.  I miss you.”“I know exactly what we’re going to do, and I’ve already spoken to your friends and scheduled buses.  When I get there, we can just relax and drink margaritas all day long.”“I hope so, Addi.  I need a margarita now.”“Then go make one.”  Addison laughed. The clinking of Missy digging in the liquor cabinet carried through the speaker.  “I finished your wedding present.”She held the phone away from her ear until the high-pitched scream of joy stopped.“Send me a photo, please, please!  Did you use the snowflake pattern I like so much?”“Hold your horses, Missy.”  She chuckled at her friend’s excitement.  “No pictures or hints.  You’ll just have to wait and see it when I get there.”She folded up the large afghan and placed it in a canvas bag so it could be packed safely in her luggage without fear of snagging.“Addi,” Missy whined into the phone.“Go drink your margarita.”The front door opened, and Addison’s grandfather walked inside.  A rush of November Montana air made her shiver.“I have to go. Gramps is back.  I’ll call you before I leave in the morning, okay?”“Love you, girly.  See you soon.”“Love you too, bye.” The line clicked and went dead. She shoved the cell phone into her pocket and stood up from the couch.  “Gramps, how were the south herds?”“Look’n good, Addi.  They should be ready to run when you get back from the wedding.”  He smiled and blew into his hands.  “How was little Missy?”“A ball of nerves as usual.” She walked to the thermostat and turned up the heat.  “She’s just really excited.”“Well, a girl should be excited if she’s getting married.  When am I going to see you get excited over a young man?”“Gramps!”“Well, you haven’t even gone out with anyone since that Billy something when you graduated from the university.  That was three years ago.”“Gramps, I’m not going to go out with just anybody.”“I know, but I’m getting old.  I want to know you will have somebody to watch over you.”“Don’t talk like that. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”“Well, you have a good time while you’re in Nashville, but don’t run off with any musicians.”“Sure, Gramps.  I’ll be sure to interview them ahead of time.”  She laughed and gave her grandfather a hug.  “Let me have your coat.  Then you go sit by the fireplace and warm up.  I’ll get you a cup of coffee.”“Thank you, dear.”She walked into the over-sized ranch-style kitchen and poured her grandfather a cup of the coffee she’d brewed fresh for this afternoon.  Montana was cold in November, and this year was no different.  Coffee or hot chocolate was a staple all day long.  She always kept a fresh pot or kettle warm and ready to go.  Her grandfather’s arthritis had been acting up lately, and she had been doing roundups with the ranch hands instead of her vet rounds for the past few weeks. Luckily, there hadn’t been any calls that her assistant couldn’t handle.Addison was handing off the cup of coffee when the back door burst open. Five large and loud men came stomping through the door.  Boomer and Jack, the two blue heelers on the ranch, darted into the living room as well.  The second burst of cold air sent another shiver down her spine.  Damn, it’s cold.  Technically, winter hadn’t even started yet.“Close the door, guys!  Don’t just stand there.”A chorus of apologies floated her direction, and the door was promptly closed.  She rubbed her arms and hurried back into the kitchen.“Shoo!”She waved her hand, and the two dogs scurried over to their beds in the corner.“That coffee smells divine.”“Just give me a sec, Roger.  I’ll have it ready for you and the boys in a moment.  Go on over and join Gramps by the fire.”Moments later, she carried a tray of steaming mugs to the waiting group of men in her living room.  They eagerly took the hot coffee and showered her with compliments and thanks.  She had enjoyed working with them these last few weeks, but she missed her animal patients and was eager to get back to rounds.  Her poor assistant, Carrie, was being run ragged with all the ankle sprains this early snow was causing in a lot of the horses.  The wet weather combined with six inches of snow had layered the ground in a dangerous slush.“You know, we still can’t account for about twenty head from the southeast pasture.”  Roger glanced up at Addison with a worried expression in his eyes.“No sign of foul play or animal attacks?” she asked.He shook his head and sipped the hot coffee.“Nothing, Addi, but Corbin said he saw tire tracks in the slush down a few miles from the gully when he was scouting around.  Had to be fresh.  Nothing lasts long in this icy shit.”“You think someone is stealing the cattle?” she asked abruptly. “Gramps, I can’t leave if we have rustlers on the land.”“Don’t you worry your pretty head over such things.  Roger and the boys have everything under control.  That’s why I’ve had y’all moving the herds closer to the house.”She shook her head and sipped on her own cup of hot cocoa.  Stubborn old man.  She shouldn’t leave, but Missy would hunt her down with a Browning and shoot her if she missed the wedding.“I’ll be back in a week.  Roger, be sure you report what Corbin found to the sheriff.  He needs to know if we suspect rustlers in the area.  All the ranches should be warned.”“Already done.  Your grandpa had me go this morning.”Addison smiled and turned to her grandfather.He smirked and winked at her. “I told you we have it under control.”“Well, fine then,” she answered and laughed.* * *APHRODITE“The festival in Nashville went well I take it?” Dionysus asked, reclining on the soft grass of Aphrodite’s palace garden on Mt. Olympus.Aphrodite sat above him on the stone ledge around the pool of souls. “Mmmmm,” she murmured and nodded. “I found Addison Connelly’s match.  That poor girl’s soul has been crying out to me for almost ten years.”“Sad story?”“These souls have been looking for each other for five centuries. They have reached the point where they slowly begin to give up.  The poor girl went on a couple of dates in college before hooking up with a guy who was a jerk to her for three years. The despair of the soul made her look for comfort anywhere she could find it. Luckily she broke up with him before he hurt her physically. Emotionally, there are a lot of scars.”“Well, her life must be quite sexually frustrating.”“You have no idea!  Now that I can see both halves of the whole, I feel everything they feel. Adrian, as well, hasn’t had more than a few one-night stands.  His frustrations are just as painful.”Dionysus sat up quickly and narrowed his eyes.  Aphrodite smiled.  Something had just dawned on him for the first time. Not a common look on a god over a millennia old.“That’s why you fight so hard to match these souls.”Aphrodite nodded. “I can see the souls I’ve met through the portal of the pool, but once I’ve touched both halves of a pair, I can feel their every emotion. It doesn’t leave me until they bond.”“But you feed from their energy.  Don’t you like it?”“Of course, but I don’t just feed from the souls.  I am connected to every human soul on the planet.  It’s a symbiotic relationship.  I feed from their passion and emotions, but without me, there would be no passion or emotions. I give as much as I get. It’s a delicate balance.”“What about the crystals in the pool? Aren’t they power sources, too?”Aphrodite paused, ignoring his question, and looked toward the edge of her garden; her protection spells were ringing in her consciousness. But typically they stopped as quickly as they started. Her spells gave off a wicked jolt. Who the hell was sneaking around? She looked back down at Dionysus’s silly grin and smiled. “They are a power source as well. They are a direct connection to the bonded souls.”“I don’t suppose I could borrow some power to amp up my annual festival?”Aphrodite snorted a laugh at his comment. “It doesn’t really work that way. Remember what I said about balance.”She turned suddenly and stared into the trees that lined the edge of her garden again.  She could have sworn she saw figures moving in the shadows. They hadn’t touched the barrier again, though. The first zap was usually enough to deter even the most determined Olympian.“Ditee, is everything all right?”“I think someone is spying on us.” With a quick wave of her hand, powerful shields over the pool area rose and shimmered in the early evening light.  No immortal could get past it.“We are boring.  Why would somebody spy on us?”“Dionysus.” She frowned. He knew exactly why.“You and Ares fought over souls two thousand years ago, didn’t you?” he asked, getting to his feet.“Yes.  Other gods can manipulate the power of soul mate diamonds, even break them apart, but it comes at a very steep and painful price to me and… the souls can die. Even Hades himself would not wish the death of souls.” Aphrodite stood and slipped her arm into Dionysus’s. They walked back inside her palace together.  “I trusted Ares, and he took advantage of that trust.”“But you are back together after all this time.  It’s been nearly two millennia.” He raised an eyebrow and looked down at her, waiting.Aphrodite laughed at Dionysus’ confused expression.  “Another argument brought us back together.  Nothing like a good fight and make-up sex.”“What happened back then?”“Antony and Cleopatra.”Dionysus stopped in his tracks and turned to face her.“No fucking way!”Aphrodite nodded.  She started forward again and led him into her large kitchen and dining hall.  “Ares broke apart two bonded souls. Those souls paid the ultimate price, and the war continued just as Ares desired.”

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